|National Football League|
Lions still a threat with Stafford, Johnson
By NOAH TRISTER
ALLEN PARK, Mich. (AP) Matthew Stafford's pass was low and a bit off target.
No matter. Calvin Johnson stuck out his left arm and gathered the ball in with one hand.
Was it a legitimate catch or did the ball hit the ground? It wasn't clear from the sideline, and the fans at training camp didn't seem to care. They let out a cheer.
This quarterback-receiver tandem has certainly earned the benefit of the doubt.
No matter what problems the Detroit Lions still have this season, the terrific duo of Stafford and Johnson makes them a team to be feared. Stafford is coming off his healthiest season, in which he threw for 5,038 yards. Johnson had 96 catches for 1,681 yards and 16 touchdowns.
"We don't waste any time getting back into the groove of things," Johnson said earlier in the week. "It's already coming back. It feels good out there."
Johnson was the second overall pick in the 2007 draft, and Stafford was taken first in 2009. It took a while for the combination to click, largely because Stafford's first two seasons were interrupted by injuries.
In 2011, he started all 16 games, leading Detroit to its first playoff appearance in a dozen years. He threw 41 touchdowns and only 16 interceptions.
Coach Jim Schwartz isn't necessarily concerned about whether Stafford can maintain those numbers, but he does believe his quarterback is young enough that he could improve some more.
"We would expect him to. He's 24 years old. He's still a developing player," Schwartz said. "We all know that the more you do something, the better you get at it."
It was a rough offseason for the Lions, who had several players in run-ins with law enforcement. But the sight of Johnson running under the ball on a long pass from Stafford is enough to remind anyone of the potential.
After he was drafted in 2009, Stafford signed a six-year contract worth a possible $78 million. This past offseason, Johnson signed an eight-year deal with up to $132 million. These two could be thrilling Motown for quite some time.
"I think continuity is big in this league, and I think we have that," center Dominic Raiola said. "(Stafford) is still young. He's still getting in better shape. I think he's two years removed from all of his injuries. I think he's moving around better."
Johnson led the league in yards receiving, and this was the third time he'd surpassed 1,100. He also did it in 2010, when Stafford was hurt most of the season.
So Stafford may have a bit more to prove this year. His breakout last season was remarkable and put to rest many doubts about whether he could stay healthy and perform as a No. 1 draft pick is supposed to. But one marvelous year isn't enough.
"I want to be great, and putting in work is what you have to do," Stafford said. "Just be more consistent. That's what the great quarterbacks in this league do."
In addition to their off-the-field problems, the Lions are still dealing with uncertainty concerning running back Jahvid Best, who has been limited by concussion problems. There's also the question of how the secondary will respond after being exploited toward the end of last season.
But when Stafford is dropping back to throw and Johnson is breaking off the line of scrimmage, the Lions sure look formidable.
"We're hungry to move forward from where we were last year," Stafford said. "It's fun to get back into it."
NOTES: Schwartz said OL Jeff Backus hurt a thumb at practice Saturday. "He went in and got X-rays," Schwartz said. "We're going to wait and see what those look like. ... Guys have played with a lot worse, but obviously, it's a training camp practice. We're not going to push through a situation like that." ... Rookie DE Ronnell Lewis came off the physically unable to perform list and participated in practice.
Updated July 28, 2012